Speaking and listening at Sewanee

By Fleming Smith

Junior Editor

Next fall, the Center for Speaking and Listening will open on the second floor of duPont Library for use by all students. This new resource will help Sewanee students develop their oral communication skills in several areas, from giving a presentation in class to handling a job interview. The Center is part of a larger program, Sewanee’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), entitled “Learning to Speak — Speaking to Learn,” which will include new classes across the curriculum to encourage better speaking skills at university and after graduation.

Although still in development, many feel the Center is full of possibilities. “The Speaking and Listening Center will work along the same lines as the Writing Center: students can receive help, individually or in groups, from the Director and from peer tutors on oral presentations and public speaking assignments,” says Professor Virginia Craighill, a member of the QEP committee. The Center will also make full use of technology to help tutors give feedback, such as recording studios available for practice sessions both in the Center and later on in other buildings across campus as well.

“Learning to Speak — Speaking to Learn and the Speaking and Listening Center will also offer support for any students who want to create extra-curricular clubs or groups focused on public speaking,” continued Craighill. “We would love to see the initiation of a Sewanee Debate Club and even a Forensics Theme House, as well as the continuation of groups such as Toastmasters.” Students can become involved in the Center as Speaking tutors and fellows after taking a public speaking course from the new Director of the Center guiding other students in learning how to give successful, engaging presentations and speeches.

Although most Sewanee classes involve oral communication, the QEP hopes to emphasize the connection between speaking and learning. “Everybody’s recognized that this is something we do at Sewanee and something we value, just like writing. We all value reasoned, articulate communication in civil ways with one another,” says Professor Bill Engel, another member of QEP committee. He mentioned that when the proposal was brought to the Center for Teaching, a group of Sewanee teachers committed to better teaching practices, “everybody was excited about it.”

The “Learning to Speak — Speaking to Learn” initiative hopes to extend beyond the classroom. Craighill noted, “If students are more capable and confident speakers and better listeners, the exchange of ideas on significant issues on campus and in the community will lead to greater understanding and more respectful dialogue.” This approach emphasizes the correlation between becoming a better listener through learning how to be a better speaker, and the way both aspects of oral communication are necessary to be an informed and productive student, employee, and citizen.

“Sewanee students who receive training in oral communication through the program will be more effective at job interviews; graduates will have a competitive edge in the professional world and ultimately will be more productive citizens because of their ability to speak appropriately and with self-assurance in any situation and be leaders in public discourse,” Craighill continued. Engel hopes that the Center can provide a range of services, from detailed feedback on a oral project for class to online videos on how to approach a phone interview. In the coming weeks, a director for the Center will be hired, adding even more to the possibilities for speaking resources on campus.

Some may think it is easier to edit an essay than a presentation, but as with every skill, public speaking — however anxiety-inducing it may be — can be improved and made easier with every fresh attempt. In Craighill’s words, “The QEP, ‘Learning to Speak — Speaking to Learn,’ will provide a way for students to overcome that fear and become polished speakers, clear oral communicators, and active listeners.”